2019 Top Restaurants on The Central Coast of California
Once a year I dust off my old restaurant picker and make a list of the culinary waypoints that are infused in my cranium. These are the paramount spaces to eat for celebratory and important events (even if it is a perfect meal for one). This list has many newcomers, that surprised me, as it usually takes a new eatery over a year to get on my culinary waypoint list. My choices are judged by exemplary food, superior service, consistency, and atmosphere. I believe each of them can be your “go-to” when trying to impress a crowd or just yourself. They are not in order of excellence, but rather by the alphabet.
Bon Appetite Magazine agrees with me on this magnificent French-inspired bistro in Los Alamos. Run by a husband and wife team (Greg and Daisy), this exceptional experience has brought me back time after time. I always stop first at Lo-Fi Winery and get a bottle of Chardonnay and Cab Franc to accompany our meal.
Every morsel on the menu is a delight to behold.
The most mind-blowing is the Tinned Brújula Spanish Sardines with Sarah’s Saltines. On first look, it is just a can of sardines and crackers (like my Papa used to enjoy), but there is magic in this simplicity. The house-made saltines serve are the impeccable podium for the tiny fish, creamy butter and siracha like red sauce. The combo of these three items on a cracker will make you see stars.
For entrees, we do the Moules Frites with Santa Barbara Hope Ranch mussels, white wine, garlic, and saffron broth and the Poulet Rôti roasted Jidori chicken, potage of potatoes, and leeks and the Steak Frites. Here I have a secret- I always go with another couple, so we order everything on the menu and share. The desserts are exemplary with the 30-layer crepe cake reigning supreme. Reservations are encouraged, save your table at www.bellsrestaurant.com.
They have established themselves as the best of the best in the national, regional and local press. They continue to be the first restaurant that locals recommend, and they deserve every accolade. The love and devotion that goes into preparation are stupendous, the heart of each employee is felt in this flawless dining experience. Brian Collins is the soul of this gastronomic enchantment and a wonderful host.
The menu changes monthly on the first, but some of my favorites are the Prosciutto Wrapped Artichoke that is stuffed with burrata mozzarella, the Cayucos Abalone made with crispy pork belly and the Rib Eye Steak. I usually order as many appetizers as we have quests so we can try everything. Gary always has all the desserts. Don’t believe the hype, there are seats to be found without an hour wait. Go early (4:00 pm) or late (8:30 pm) and midweek. Find them at www.emberwoodfire.com
Raised from the ashes, this established monarchy of Italian delicacies never ceases to impress. They are only open for dinner (except for weekends) and the bar presents the whos-who of bartenders and patrons. If you want to see all the movers and shakers of a 7,000-population beach town- it happens here. Joe DiFronzo started this as a Cal Poly senior project and now his grown children help run it, but he is still in the kitchen. The menu is seasonal, but I love the alla Picatta Morro Bay Sand Dabs made unflawed with Meyers lemon, briny capers, and white wine served with a parmigiana risotto. Try the Bucatini con Polpette della Nonna (which means done grandmother’s way) the thick spaghetti-like pasta stems with little holes running through them and hand-rolled meatballs, it is scrumptious with Joe’s fresh marinara sauce. Not to be missed is the Scaloppine di Vitello con Pomodori Fresco, a thinly sautéed pounded veal done with lemon, extra virgin olive oil, diced tomatoes, and chunks of avocado. A wonderful symphony of flavor and texture. This is the one place that I order dessert, the handmade cannoli. With fresh strawberry, blueberries, and small chocolate chips adorning the plate, this is nirvana. Find them at www.giuseppesrestaurant.com
Nothing about this restaurant should work. Not only does it work, but it surpasses any dining experience. Every time. There is nothing on the menu that is not fantastic. The food is sourced from rare and the finest purveyors. The industrial vibe is part of the intrigue, but the staff is so well trained and happy, it permeates the experience. This place is a pure dichotomy of fine dining. I love every moment that I am there.
You stand in line to order, try to figure out the menu, then try to find a spot to eat. My favorite spot is seating at the back bar and watching the dance of the wood-fired oven masters. The shelf is lined with unique and fascinating cook/foodie books. My chosen first dish is the Caesar salad. It simply is the best. Large romaine leaves are drenched in a garlic/lemon/anchovy flavor and served with parmesan bread crisps.
Their plates are meant to be shared and are as diverse as Smoked Pheasant with basil and citrus, White Shrimp served with pancetta, chile, and garlic, a salad with apple, fennel, walnut, and parsley and Chicken Liver with guanciale and capers. All exceptional and completely surprising. They specialize in wood oven pizza and sandwiches which defy gravity. Everything down to the idealized wine (served in a mason jar) to the exceptional desserts, make this the place where I treat all my Highfalutin friends. See menu and hours at www.industrialeats.com
Taking over the old Foremost spot inside the Creamery is one of the most award-winning and multi-faceted chefs in this area. Chef Nicola Allegretto has owned restaurants in over 8 countries and this man is a culinary genius with menus, ingredients, and creativities. Every contest he enters, he wins. Every dish he serves is a miracle of culture, presentation, and taste. Mistura is a Peruvian restaurant and an adventure in dining.
Go for the Habla Causita, a distinctly Peruvian dish. Seasoned whipped three different cold potatoes crowned with wild shrimp, king crab and Ahi tuna tartare. My other love is Anticuchos de Carretilla, a grilled natural beef heart marinated with aji panca. The Alpaca Carpaccio is so good, I nearly fainted with joy. Thinly sliced served with an aji Amarillo, sliced heirloom cherry tomatoes, avocado with a swirl of aji verde. They have “fajitas” type dish and empanadas for the less adventurous, but everything is superb. Mistura is a perfect place to impress a date then have a romantic and joyous meal. Find them at www.misturarestaurants.com
I encourage you to try all the meal cycles at the new Piadina at Hotel San Luis Obispo. I am happy to report that each offering was so well thought out and was presented as a work of art. The chef is from French Laundry and it is confirmed in every bite.
The Ahi dish with wasabi and Calabrian chilies, avocado, Dacron, cauliflower, pickled fennel, and compressed watermelon squares. It encouraged you to delve into each bite, alone and then combining them. It was as picturesque as it was tasty. Rarely is the surprise of the entrees a simple fowl. The Roasted Chicken with brussels sprouts, egg yolk ravioli, pancetta, and pickled pearl onion, was perfection with each part made up a luscious whole. Other favorites are Mushroom and Goat Cheese Flatbread, Fried Egg Flatbread and the Artichoke Lasagna. This ancient pasta layered sculpture was herbaceous and I have never tasted anything like it.
The Hotel SLO is like stepping into a statuesque San Francisco hotel in its stunning and understated elegance, best described as comfortable and chic. See the menu and make reservations at www.piadinaslo.com.
Another epic culinary adventure in Los Almos with my favorite winemaker squeezing the juice. Lumen Wines is located inside Pico, and the care and brilliance that goes into each one of Lane Tanner
wines are mirrored in this expectational eatery. Gary goes for the warm chocolate chip cookies each time we land in Los Alamos. He disappears and I miraculously find him here.
One of my favorite activities is Burger Night at Pico on Sundays. Share a Dagwood Burger which is filled with the chef’s choice of toppings. The meat was Tri-tip, short ribs, and pork sausage ground together into a 1/4-pound patty, on a grilled Brioche bun. It was topped with three kinds of wild mushrooms, pork belly, home fries, Coleslaw, Jalapeño, Manchego, Sautéed onions, and a fried egg.
On other nights, the inspired chef offers Pork Cannelloni with a bechamel and manchego, Rabbit Crepinette with potato gnocchi and spicy tomato and Double Cut Mangalitza Pork Chop.
For the full experience, you need to end each night in Los Alamos with a nightcap at the Union Hotel with a game of pool and a Bob sighting at the bar. Find them at www.losalamosgeneralstore.com
Somerset contains the compulsory open kitchen and a plethora of smiling faces all there to make the guest feel “waited on”. But they went a step further with exceptional food, great service, and stunning scenery. The menu seems pedestrian, but it is executed with a panache we do not see in this area. Case in point: Smoked Salmon Toast Points. This was perfection in flavor and impeccable accouterments including fried capers, crème fraîche, grated hard eggs, red onions, and scallions. Try the Spicy Tuna Poke, Seafood Chowder, Strawberry Shortcake, Succotash, and Short Ribs. Every dish here seems to outdo the next for flavor and excellence.
The best part is strolling after the meal to the fire pits to finish off the bottle of wine with the dazzling sound of the ocean breaking on the shore only 20 feet from the stunning property.
They are open every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Valet parking is free for the first two hours, so do not waste time trying to find parking. See everything at www.somersetgrillpismo.com.
In a place where I should not play favorites, I do with this Restaurant. Brooke and Jacob Town have a created a bacchanal of flavor and service in every minute detail at The Spoon Trade. The pleasure that all my guests receive here is unending. The food is always steeped in flavor and flawlessness and the service impeccable. I long for the Petrale Sole Almondine that is the pan-seared local sole, melted leeks, roasted baby broccoli, almond-brown butter, fresh herbs. They have an incendiary brunch and happy hour to please all wallets and tastes.
Go for the Chicken and Waffles with house-made kimchi, sourdough waffle, butter, spiced honey, fried rosemary, the Tri-Tip Tartare with fresh ground tri-tip, shallots, parsley, sherry vinegar, and a tonnato sauce, or House Made Ramen with duck confit, 36-hour bone broth, shoyu egg, scallions, and schmaltz. Everything on the menu is impeccable. They call it “Comfort Food” which is our first pleasure, representing the memory and flavors of our youth. When we revisit the sensory effect, it is more than taste buds and fullness, it’s a remembrance of grandma, our childhood, and our life. This is a restaurant with a palette and imagination to combine comfort and haute cuisine. Find them at www.thespoontrade.com
This is a new bistro run by an exceptional husband and wife team of William and Kari Torres is the epitome of everything foodie. The restaurant is open from breakfast and lunch every day but Sunday and opens for dinners on Friday and Saturday only. At The Farmhouse, breakfast is such a gourmet affair, you will not want to eat for the rest of the day. The flavors are subtle and exceptional, the execution is immaculate, and the service is brilliant. Go for the Kimchi Fried Rice with garlic, ginger, Koshihikari rice, Spam, Branden’s mushrooms, shoyu, shishito, scallion, and a fried egg or the OG Albacore Kinilaw Bowl with the freshest Albacore anywhere served with Fresno chili, coconut, cilantro, Thai basil, shallots, and crispy garlic. The menu changes seasonally, but for dinner, I was impressed with the Steamed Halibut with Japanese curry, delicata squash, potato, mustard greens, pickled honshimeiji mushroom or Braised Natural Pork with brussels sprouts, Anson Mills polenta, and braising jus.
The Farmhouse boasts a market with everything you need for a complete charcuterie at home and the chef makes wild ice cream flavors like Avocado Lime and Butterscotch all from scratch. Gary is there daily for the ice cream and the pastries. Find them at www.farmhouseslo.com
Restaurant maven supreme, Debbie Thomas has once again devised her dream of the immaculate restaurant with the new improved THO. New Executive chef, Libry Darusman is the stuff of legends and not just by name, but by flavor. He spent his younger years in Bogor, Indonesia and was exposed to the exotic taste of the orient. Growing up throughout Europe, with a strong emphasis on French and German cultures and exposures to many Michelin Star restaurants and chefs, he has tasted accomplishment and knows how to recreate it. What he does at THO is bring the literal world of culinary royalty using our local organic ingredients. Go for the Roasted Chestnut Soup, seriously- I have never had anything like this glorious and award-winning soup. It has chestnuts, house-made crème fraîche, smoked maple reduction, and local olive oil.
Try the Black Cod with haricot vert, toasted almonds, charred cucumber pesto, brioche bread puree, scallion ash or the Bone Marrow Crusted Rib-Eye with a Niman rib-eye, baked potato puree, radish yogurt, roasted seasonal vegetables, black tea bordelaise, and herb leaves. The setting, service, and surprises will make you a culinary conqueror if you chose TMH and take friends. Find them at www.thomashillorganics.com.
Honorable mention goes to:
You wait in line on the foggy shore for an hour, while sharing a bottle of Rose with the stranger who just became your best friend. You sit at the counter and watch the culinary dance of the shuckers and streamers. You order raw clams (this is the ONLY place to do this) and Oysters Rockefeller. You bring an envelope of cash because that is the only currency they deal in. This hidden gem of fresh seafood is my favorite for anniversaries and birthdays. I like waiting in line and also walking the shore after the meal.
Sea Chest is well known for all of its seafood, especially it’s House Cioppino, local Morro Bay Oysters and the best Panko Crusted Calamari Steak you’ll ever have.
Find them at www.seachestrestaurant.com